Anglican Watch

Grace Episcopal Alexandria talks about having adulterous priest Anne Turner back. Yikes.

Full disclosure: Anglican Watch editor Eric Bonetti is a former member of Grace Church.

One of the challenges in the Episcopal Church is the lack of accountability. Specifically, the denomination has a flawed and un-Christian notion of forgiveness, in which cheap grace runs rampant, and all someone needs to do is say, “Well, I’m sorry,” and we’re good to go. Or the ever-popular “I don’t want to get involved.”

And nowhere do we see more clearly the problems this mess causes than at Grace Episcopal Alexandria, where conversations about having adulterous former rector Anne Turner back.

Huge mistake.

To be clear, it appears that Anne Turner’s adultery may have been connected with her experience, a few years back, with breast cancer.

Moreover, we recognize that forgiveness is a key aspect of Christianity.

And Anne is a nice person and kind to persons in trouble.

But there is a huge difference between forgiveness and rehiring someone unqualified to be a priest.

We also recognize that, as of this post, it’s many months until Anne’s disciplinary suspension as a priest is over, and she’s eligible to be rehired at Grace. Or hired at another church.

But again, bringing Anne Turner back would be a huge mistake and would bring back the worst aspects of Grace’s sordid past.

What qualifications does someone need to be a priest?

The qualifications to be a priest are, or should be, the same as the qualifications to be any other minister and include:

  • A passionate faith.
  • A desire to live that faith.
  • Adherence to the norms of the Episcopal Church, which does not need to be liberal. But there should be a strong commitment to welcome and acceptance of all persons, and a desire to live a Godly life.
  • A desire to share their faith with others and help them grow in their faith.
  • Personal and professional integrity. And with integrity comes courage–the courage to resist injustice and oppression, not just in the abstract, but in the here and now.

In these areas, we see huge gaps in Anne Turner’s qualifications.

Assessing Anne Turner’s qualifications to be a priest

In examining Anne Turner and her track record, we see a mixed bag, with the problems offsetting the positives.

On the positive side, Anne Turner is good at pastoral care. That’s important because folks at Grace need a lot of love and compassion right now.

But they also need people willing to speak the truth, and Anne scores a failing grade on that front.

Let’s start by parsing her adultery.

As we understand it, Anne Turner repeatedly told others, including persons in the churches where she worked, that her liaisons with her adulterous partner were “spiritual retreats.” Those statements were lies. Repeated lies, part of a pattern of deceit and deception.

In addition, if Anne took parish funds for any of her trysts, she committed embezzlement by taking money under false pretenses.

Anne Turner’s claims, part of a complaint she made to the hosting company of a sister website, SiteGround, in which she sought to have content about her removed, make clear she is unrepentant. Specifically:

  • Her specious claim that her husband’s name and occupation (he is an assistant secretary of defense) is not a matter of public record is a blatant fabrication. All Americans have a right to know who works for the government and what they do.
  • As a quasi-public figure, she does not have a right to privacy when she violates church canons. Indeed, reporters have a right to cover her unethical conduct and her egregious breach of trust.
  • Anne Turner should not be holding herself forth as an Episcopal priest, either in correspondence with SiteGround or anyone else. If nothing else, the Episcopal Church already has enough sordid behavior without Anne adding to the mix.
  • We do not believe for an instant Anne Turner’s claim that she was no longer having an affair. If not, why was she keeping in touch with her adulterous partner? Why were they not friends on Facebook? And why was she exchanging text messages with him, replete with heart emoticons? As we have previously said, this is like a recovering alcoholic maintaining a well-stocked bar–just in case. And if they indeed were just friends, as Anne claims, how would this engender her husband’s trust or that of others?
  • While Anne Turner may proclaim that the media need her permission to reprint her adulterous correspondence, we think she will discover that any copyright claim she might raise falls in the face of the public’s right to see documentation of her adulterous conduct.
  • While Anne Turner took time to look up the whois information for the website with her name on it and draft a complaint, we don’t see a similar effort when Anne Turner was asked to testify about perjuring priest Bob Malm’s claims of mental illness and domestic terrorism. Indeed, she sought out legal counsel, paid for the the Church Pension Group, to avoid testifying. So, Anne Turner is a hypocritical, two-faced asshole. Feel free to quote us.
  • We have strenuous concerns about the mental health of anyone who thinks, per Anne Turner’s adulterous correspondence, that they can find love in an affair. What begins in deception ends in hurt, and that is a pretty basic concept in pastoral care–and a basic life lesson.

Anne’s possible narcissism

In all of this, we see no sign of concern from Anne Turner about her betrayal of trust. That includes God, her marital vows/family, her former parish, church members, and third parties whom she has hurt.

In fact, all we see is Anne Turner’s concern for her own needs.

In other words, we see a strongly self-centered streak in Anne’s conduct, much like the staggering narcissism and anti-social personality of her predecessor, perjuring priest Bob Malm.

Indeed, Malm’s conduct underscores the distinction between friendly — which all agree Malm is — and faithful, which Malm clearly is not. Moreover, one does not correlate with the other.

To be clear, Anne appears to be an improvement over Malm. But that hardly is a ringing endorsement.

Why not hire Anne back?

Speaking of Bob Malm, the last thing Grace Church needs is another self-entitled jackass who preaches triumphalism and exceptionalism. Specifically, Malm regularly told parishioners that Grace was special and how people who moved could “take a piece of Grace with them.”

But the sad reality is that while Grace is less toxic than before, it’s not exactly healthy. Behavior within the parish reflects 30 years of Malm’s feckless, narcissistic tenure, and members need only look at the loss of two-thirds of all pledging units in the last ten years to realize that people would not be leaving if the place were, in fact, a slice of stained glass paradise.

Neither does Grace need a rector with integrity issues. Anne Turner’s conduct involves a series of lies and deceptions directed at vestry members, church members, and even her family.

That suggests Anne Turner is similar to Bob Malm, who thought nothing of repeatedly lying to vestry members with claims like, “Don’t worry about [the office staff]. They’ll be retiring this year.”

Since vestry members are fiduciaries, these sorts of deceptions make it impossible to treat the rector as a missional partner. Additionally, they undercut the role of the vestry — which Bob Malm did on a consistent basis, by tampering with the internal composition of the vestry and its executive committee.

Further, Anne Turner’s conduct evinces a remarkable lack of judgment spanning a wide range of topics. These issues include:

  • Her decision to violate her marriage and ordination vows by having an affair.
  • Her stated belief that her affair constituted actual love.
  • Her lies connected with her affair.
  • Her fabrications about how information regarding her husband’s role as an assistant secretary of defense is not public data.

All of these suggest a profoundly troubled individual who does not approach even her marriage with integrity. Indeed, if Anne is in an unhappy marriage, there are appropriate ways to deal with it. But lying and having an affair are not among her legitimate options.

And while Anne has been proactive with her lies and deception involving her affair, we don’t see the same level of assertiveness when it comes to telling the truth about Bob Malm and his mendacious behavior.

So much for resisting injustice and oppression.

All of this points us to a key notion, which is that Anne is a holdover from the bad old days of Bob Malm. It’s all about her, and while she may be friendly and kind — in other words, Bubba Lite, as one person puts it — she’s still a throwback to the issues that got Grace in this hot mess to begin with.

More on that below.

The difference between forgiveness and hiring decisions

We also need to be clear: There is a profound distinction between forgiveness and hiring decisions.

On the issue of forgiveness and possible reconciliation, we first note that Anne, the offender, has done nothing to make restitution to those she has hurt. Thus, one of the essential precursors to reconciliation is missing. And as the offender, it is her responsibility to make this happen. Not the Diocese. Not the bishop. Not the vestry/church.

Of course, the absence of restitution on Anne’s part doesn’t prevent forgiveness. But forgiveness is a spiritual and relational issue–it is not a hiring issue.

On the latter, we can assess the Anne Turner situation by comparing it to other hypotheticals:

  • Is a convicted bank robber a good candidate for the role of an armored care driver?
  • Is an alcoholic suited to working as a bartender?

We recognize that none of these are hard and fast situations. But a fiduciary, acting in a hiring role, would need a ton of redemptive information to rightly conclude that a candidate in these situations should be hired.

Another way to look at it is Maya Mangelou’s famous advice:

When someone shows you who they are, believe them the first time. People know themselves much better than you do. That’s why it’s important to stop expecting them to be something other than who they are.

In other words, we can forgive someone for being a liar, a manipulator, an adulterer, and generally clueless.

But forgiving them need not extend to assuming they will suddenly be a priest who resists injustice and oppression, who doesn’t have affairs, and who has sound judgment.

Anne Turner has shown us who and what she is. She has provided no evidence to support contrary conclusions.

Reputational issues

In addition to the basic character flaws we see in Anne, there is the problem of external-facing reputational issues.

As things stand, many see Grace as a toxic cesspool.

That’s a correct conclusion, given the lies that come from parishioners, including Sugarland Chiow’s fabrications and those of Lisa and Lucy Medley. Additionally, we have the latter’s comments in which she urged a member of our staff to commit suicide. Anyone who can grow up in an Episcopal parish and think that this sort of behavior is okay is a troubled soul, and the church/family environment behind this thinking is even more troubled.

Amusingly, Lisa Medley posted on The Wartburg Watch that Anglican Watch editor Eric Bonetti “narcissistically attributes” all the problems at Grace to him. That’s funny–last we heard, Lisa Medley, Alison Campbell, Kemp Williams, Kelly “God Wants Me to Be Drunk” Gable, and Bob Malm, along with several other dullards/dingbats, get full credit for their roles in the meltdown of (dis)Grace church.

That aside, bringing Anne back would help the church revert to old, toxic behavioral norms. Yes, having her as rector would be comfortable and reassuring, but the church needs something entirely different, which is the ongoing challenge of reexamining its internal dynamics and how the behavior of members aligns with their purported faith

And let’s not kid ourselves — it’s not like the church is ever going to take responsibility for its past abusive behavior. Think of trying to drag a dying woman into court and go from there.

So, if Anne Turner returns, those watching the church will correctly conclude that it’s more of the same from an already toxic cesspool of corruption. Indeed, even now, we see folks at the church, especially in the altar guild, acting like they are somehow special.

They are not special, and the church is not special. It’s a sad, toxic place where clergy lie, perjure themselves, have affairs, and more.

Nor are so-called leaders any better. Whether it’s Lisa Medley’s childish and hateful lies, Sugarland Chiow’s false statements of law and facts to the courts, the church’s efforts to drag a dying woman into court, or myriad other examples, this is a parish sorely in need of change.

Stupid is as stupid does. Let’s hope Grace church gets its act together and takes a pass on Anne Turner. The latter is, at best, a deceitful, troubled soul, entirely unsuited to being clergy.

5 comments

  1. I 💯 percent agree with your qualifications for being a priest. But I’m also becoming aware that theirs a divergence in the others have a different set of qualifications (and I’m speaking in general here, not specifically about the grace/Turner situation). I’m told this tension exists even at the Seminary level between the orthodox (albeit inclusive) and those who follow a more contemporary theology, and tend to view church and the role of priest differently. And I think we’re going to have to accept coexistence. Which is much easier to do now that I’ve found a great church and no longer feel the sense of loss. My church, though somewhat smaller, is growing, especially among young adults, and I think their inclusive orthodoxy and high standards are part of the reason. In my view, it’s a more potent expression of Christianity and will draw more people in than the more secularized, milquetoast version, but I’m not bothered these other churches exists…to each her own, I guess.
    Also, more specifically about Grace, a couple women from there told me they wanted Anne back because “men have gotten away with affairs for a long time”. I don’t think men currently would in DioVA, as the Bishop seems fair minded, but Im not surprised by the sentiment.
    Grace and peace to you and Mike. And though no church is perfect, I pray 🙏 you are one day blessed by a solid spiritual community as I have been. It’s very healing.

    1. Spot on. Yes, men have gotten away with affairs for years, including the “orthodox” and non-inclusive rector of the Purcellville parish, Tom Simmons. Indeed, the allegations about him making comments about a teenaged parishioner’s developing body — to her father, no less —- suggest Simmons has profound boundary issues.

      That said, we are not sure that someone with Anne’s pattern of organized deception bodes well for the future. “Spiritual retreats?!? Pfffft. And Anne has a real lack of backbone when it comes to personal integrity. So, our concerns center less on who Anne sleeps with and more with her having already shown us who she is.

      We also don’t believe for a red-hot minute her claim that her affair was not ongoing. And she shoots herself in the foot with the notion that it wasn’t; if her claim is truthful, why was she keeping in touch with him? Either way, we see a profound lack of judgment, combined with her troubling belief that love can be found in an affair. As +Stevenson notes, “What begins badly rarely ends well.”

      The last thing (dis)Grace needs is more of the same ‘ole, same ‘ole.

  2. My second sentence should say “I’m aware there IS a divergence in that other people….”. I should never re-read anything I’ve written; my grammar errors make me cray 😛!

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